Cover image for Lydia Bailey: A Checklist of Her Imprints By Karen Nipps

Lydia Bailey

A Checklist of Her Imprints

Karen Nipps


$88.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-05571-8

$45.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-05572-5

328 pages
6" × 9"
1 color/10 b&w illustrations

Penn State Series in the History of the Book

Lydia Bailey

A Checklist of Her Imprints

Karen Nipps

“Karen Nipps has made a substantial contribution to early American bibliography and printing history with Lydia Bailey: A Checklist of Her Imprints. This is, so far as I know, the largest checklist of any nineteenth-century American printer's output and the only one covering such a long span of time. More than most bibliographies, it is both a work of scholarship and an incitement to more scholarship.”


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Published by The Pennsylvania State University Press for the Bibliographical Society of America in association with the Houghton Library, Harvard University, and the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Little known today, Lydia Bailey was a leading printer in Philadelphia for decades. Her career began in 1808—when her husband, Robert, died, leaving her with the family business to manage—and ended in 1861, when she retired at the age of eighty-two. During her career, she operated a shop that at its height had more than forty employees, acted as city printer for over thirty years, and produced almost a thousand imprints bearing her name. Not surprisingly, sources reveal that she was closely associated with many of her now better-known contemporaries both in the book trade and beyond, people like her father-in-law, Francis Bailey; Mathew Carey; Philip Freneau; and Harriet Livermore. Through a detailed examination and analysis of various sources, Karen Nipps portrays Bailey’s experience within the context of her social, political, religious, and book environments.

Lydia Bailey is the first monograph on a woman printer during the handpress period. It consists of a historical essay detailing Bailey’s life and analyzing her role in the contemporary book trade, followed by a checklist of her known imprints. In addition, appendixes offer further statistical information on the activities of her shop. Together, these provide rich material for other book historians as well as for historians of the early Republic, gender, and technology.

“Karen Nipps has made a substantial contribution to early American bibliography and printing history with Lydia Bailey: A Checklist of Her Imprints. This is, so far as I know, the largest checklist of any nineteenth-century American printer's output and the only one covering such a long span of time. More than most bibliographies, it is both a work of scholarship and an incitement to more scholarship.”
“Karen Nipps's useful checklist of Lydia Bailey’s imprints and her perceptive account of Bailey's business methods provide a valuable glimpse into the inner workings of the Philadelphia book trade at the peak of its prosperity.”
“In this study, Karen Nipps draws together a remarkable amount of information about the life and work of Lydia R. Bailey, a job and contract printer in Philadelphia during the early years of the United States. The picture of Bailey’s career that emerges goes a long way toward enriching our understanding of the early American book trades in all their variety.”
“Philadelphia is a city of printers and publishers, from Benjamin Franklin to J. B. Lippincott, but until the publication of this fine checklist and perceptive essay, we have lacked a serious study of the woman who served as the city printer from 1813 until the mid-1850s.”

Karen Nipps is Head of the Rare Book Team at Harvard University’s Houghton Library.


List of Figures


Lydia Bailey – Mistress of Her Situation

Setting the Stage

The Early Years

The Trade


Her Way

Checklist of Lydia Bailey Imprints



Bibliographies Cited

Abbreviations and Location Symbols

The Checklist


1. Unlocated Imprints

2. Bailey’s Journal

3. Names from Journal

4. Primary Material Relating to Lydia Bailey


Lydia Bailey - Mistress of Her Situation

Setting the Stage

The career of the printer Lydia R. Bailey spans the better part of the 19th-century, a period when the printing trade was undergoing major change. The extant material documenting her work includes almost a thousand imprints, seven manuscript work books, and miscellaneous contemporary printed and manuscript accounts. This combination of materials permits a scrutiny not usually afforded by contemporary sources, opening a window onto the economic, social, and individual experiences of this long-lived and quite successful printer. In certain ways, her experiences reflect those of other letterpress printers who preceded her. In other ways, they teach us more about how an individual young widow broke new ground, prospering as the proprietor of one of the busiest printing establishments in Philadelphia during the first half of the nineteenth century.

By the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the American printing trade was dominated by small, tightly-knit networks of craftsmen and entrepreneurs located primarily in urban environments, the services and influence of which reached into surrounding regional communities. The trade followed traditional European models, in which individuals were often responsible for a multitude of the activities associated with the manufacture and distribution of books. Entrance into the trade was either through the apprenticeship system or through family. Printing offices were fairly small businesses, run by families employing a handful of workers and apprentices, many of whom were relatives or personal acquaintances living on or near the premises. These businesses commonly combined letterpress printing with the wholesale distribution of books. Frequently closely allied were such related activities as copperplate printing, papermaking, typefounding, binding, newspaper publishing, retailing, and the selling of stationery and other dry goods. While not every printing firm carried on all aspects of production, often close kin specialized in various branches of the trade, coordinating their efforts with one another. Operations rarely exceeded more than a dozen workers and two or three presses.

Lydia Bailey’s heritage was typical for a woman entering the printing trade, to whom the formal apprentice route was generally not available and whose involvement in the marketplace relied on learning the trade at home and through family connections.

She was born Lydia Steele on February 1, 1779 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Her father, William Steele (1750/51-1822), was the son of a respected gentleman landowner in Lancaster County of Scotch-Irish descent, also named William Steele (1707-1780). The senior William Steele was married to Rachel Carr “of Maryland” (1726-1798), who came from a prominent printing family active in Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia. He and all of his sons distinguished themselves in the military (most of them in the American War of Independence, some in the War of 1812) and, as a result, assumed prominent roles in the social communities of Lancaster and Philadelphia. One of his sons, John Steele (1753-1827), who had attained the rank of General and served directly under Washington in the Revolutionary War (at one point acting as personal bodyguard to Mrs. Washington), began operating a small printing shop in Philadelphia in 1783. In 1788 he established a paper mill on the Octoraro Creek on the borders of Lancaster and Chester counties; this mill flourished until 1844 under the proprietorship of John and another brother, James, who also did a small amount of printing in the 1790s in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

The junior William Steele was a local prothonotary (clerk of the courts) and justice of the peace and had partial interest in his brothers’ businesses. What little evidence he has left behind (some war letters to his wife and his will) suggests that he and his family led a comfortable, if not lavish, way of life. Lydia Bailey’s mother, Elizabeth Steele, was herself born a Bailey. The Baileys were both neighbors and business associates of the Steeles. Lydia Bailey’s maternal grandfather, Robert Bailey, Sr. (1708-1798), like the senior William Steele, had amassed a large estate in Lancaster County by the mid 18th-century (over 230 acres); he also owned a country estate in Octorara. He had six children: Jacob, Francis, Lydia, Abigail, Jane, and Elizabeth. Both sons grew up to be successful Revolutionary-era printers and the daughters reportedly learned the craft by their sides. As one apocryphal story has it, “before her marriage [Abigail] lived with her brother in Lancaster, Francis Bailey, … She often sat in his office with her sewing and watched him setting type. One day she said to him, “Francis, I think I can help you” and at once commenced operations and actually set up the first pocket almanac which was printed in the State.” The more famous of the two brothers, Francis Bailey (1735?-1817), is now recognized as one of this country’s first type founders; he was also the publisher of a maverick liberal newspaper, The Freeman’s Journal, and an official printer for Congress and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. With printing offices in both Philadelphia and Lancaster beginning in the late 1770s, he was closely connected to the area’s various book trades, counting as associates and customers most of the local bookmen and many prestigious civic leaders and institutions. One indication of Francis Bailey’s centrality in the trade is the fact that he was one of three witnesses to the codicil of Franklin’s will, drawn up by Franklin on June 23, 1789. Business associates extended from Boston south to Charles¬ton, South Carolina. While the papermaking trade in the Philadelphia region blossomed in the last quarter of the 19th century, offering the wares of dozens of mills, the Baileys naturally used the Steeles as a major source for their paper.

By the mid-1790s, Francis Bailey’s son, Robert Bailey (1774-1808), had come of age and taken control of his father’s flourishing Philadelphia shop. His first imprints appear in 1795. On June 22, 1797, Robert married his first cousin, Lydia Steele. We hear nothing from Lydia herself during the nine years of her marriage, though there remain contemporary accounts that reveal a little of her character. In an 1804 letter to a neighbor, an exasperated Robert Bailey complains bitterly and at length of a particular episode concerning the prankishness of said neighbor’s servants, relating how their disrespectful behavior drove his wife to protect their property and her children’s safety:

“… Mrs. Bailey desired them to desist [throwing stones], apprehensive of the windows. The greater part done so, but your boy still persisted, she a second time ordered him off without affect; she then told him she would box his ears if he did not desist. He in the most sneering and impertinent manner “requested her to do it if she dare – that he would be glad to catch her at it – she would rue it – that it would not be good for her, etc.” together with many similar provoking impressions. At this moment I came forward considerably warmed by his impertinence and told him if he did not begone I would horse-whip him, he defied and dared to do it with the most provoking effrontery in short invited me to do it at my peril. I immediately passed into the house and procured a horse-whip and should most assuredly have punished the boy for his excessive impertinence had he not had recourse to flight.

The above is one among several instances of his impertinence. With respect to the girl I shall also adduce an instance of the impropriety of her conduct by which you may be able to judge of her conduct when from under the eye of those of whom she is afraid. My youngest child very ill was in bed while my wife was attending her – my eldest scarcely more than three years old was sitting on the window seat, your girl came to the window and took hold of the child in order to assist her to clamber into the window, thereby much endangering the safety of the child, my servant woman discovering the danger forbid her and told her Mrs. Bailey would be much displeased were she to see her do so. Her reply was she did not care a damn for Mrs. B. that she would come as often as she pleased and that Mrs. B. might kiss her a—e if she liked. The same or the next day she came into the house and Mrs. B. slapped her for the expressions she had made use of and on going out she used the most provoking and insulting language.”

Lydia Bailey’s vitality no doubt aided her well in her multi-faceted role as wife, mother, housekeeper, and assistant in her husband’s business. Like many printers, Robert Bailey was also both a bookseller and a purveyor of a variety of general goods, including stationery supplies, food, liquor, furniture, kitchen tools, hardware, and linens. Lydia, like many wives in the early Republic, would have worked in the store’s backroom; in her case, this work likely included folding and stitching printed sheets herself, and maybe even setting type. Louis McKinstry, a late 19th century printer, attested that “a wife was a necessity if the printer wanted to succeed in business,” but more pointedly, as the 18th century Boston retailer Elizabeth Murray pointed out, “many familys [sic] are ruined by the women not understanding accounts.” Much evidence makes it clear that women were relied on heavily for their accounting prowess in 18th and early 19th century America. Demonstrating this, for example, is a 1755 advertisement of the Philadelphian William Dawson, who promoted “an evening school for young ladies” that included instruction in “arithmetic” and “accounts, by way of single entry, in a plain methodical manner.” A manuscript book of Sarah B. Pollock’s entitled “Practical Arithmetic Comprising all the rules for transacting business executed at Mrs. Rowan’s Academy, 1810,” owned by the American Antiquarian Society, further demonstrates the great lengths to which young women would apply themselves in learning mathematic calculations and accounting.

Benjamin “What we get, the Women save” Franklin famously advocated mathematical training for tradesmen’s wives. This view was certainly shaped by his wife Deborah, whose contributions to his business successes were substantial; additionally, he involved himself deeply in the commercial activities of many other female acquaintances, among them his sister, Jane Mecom, his sister-in-law, Ann Franklin, and Elizabeth Timothée, the widow of his South Carolina partner, Louis Timothée. In his Autobiography he attributed the widow Timothée’s success in the print trade to her childhood training in account-keeping, whereas her husband had been ignorant of such matters. He went on to say:

“that branch of education [accounting] for our young females, [is] as likely to be of more use to them and their children in case of widowhood than either music or dancing by preserving them from losses by imposition of Crafty Men, and enabling them to continue perhaps a profitable mercantile House with establish’d Correspondence till a Son is grown up fit to undertake and go on with it, to the lasting advantage and enriching of the family.”

Certainly Robert’s business was one that could well have gone under if it were not for his spouse’s abilities. It is difficult to know the precise extent of Lydia’s involvement, but there are sufficient references to her in Robert’s correspondence to make evident that Lydia did indeed help him in multiple ways. Her hand is seen recording transactions in Robert’s later accounts. Robert was a notoriously bad businessman who took the standard business practice of extending long credit and made an art of it, draining both his own and his father’s resources on numerous occasions; in excuse for his ineptitude, the young man repeatedly confessed to a faulty memory and admitted the superiority of his wife’s. As he once wrote to his father, Lydia’s “recollection appears to be more retentive than mine, and if you think mine essential, hers must be much more so.”

Sadly, whatever assistance Lydia did contribute was not enough to keep the business healthy and it appears that life for the young married Lydia Bailey, not unlike many of her female contemporaries, was one of considerable demand and struggle. Consequently, when Robert Bailey died on March 18, 1808, Lydia found herself in sole possession of her deceased husband’s insolvent business. At age 29, she had four young children to support and was left with a business heavily in debt. Rather than giving in to these “embarrassed circumstances,” she took the helm. As an obituary years later would report, “shaking off the incubus of sorrow, or holding it in abeyance,” Lydia Bailey “face[d] the world and became mistress of [her] situation.”

Unlike so many previous printer widows, Lydia was not content simply to wind the business down or keep it ticking over for a short time until a male could succeed her. She never relinquished her authority. She succeeded in rescuing the family business, not by remarrying and not by handing the business over to her son when he came of age, but by thriving under her own imprint for over five decades.

In order to understand Lydia Bailey’s success, examining precedents is of utmost importance. For many centuries single women had had a particular economic, social, and legal standing that set them apart from their married sisters. Under the English common law of coverture, wives were seen as appendages of their husbands and therefore had few or no legal rights – they could not independently engage in business transactions, make contracts, or hold property. Not so unmarried women. Referred to as femes soles, these women could own, devise, and sell property, make contracts, sue and be sued. This is an opportunity that many generations of women before Lydia Bailey seized, often flourishing as independent businesswomen. Widows, while saddled the added responsibility of rearing children and running a household on their own, seem to have been particularly suited to this role, perhaps because they had learned business practices through their experiences as wives. Within the context of the early American period, this is evidenced in contemporary directories and the many advertisements placed by women (usually widows) selling their wares in newspapers. Cornelius William Stafford’s The Philadelphia Directory, for 1801 (Philadelphia: Woodward, 1801) lists women as innkeepers, washerwomen, boarding house matrons, shopkeepers, grocers, butchers, school mistresses, hucksters, seamstresses, milliners, and midwives; a majority of them are referred to as widows. All but two of the twenty-three American women printers that preceded Bailey in the trade were widows. In fact, Lydia’s widowhood could not have happened at a better time in historical terms, for she was able to exploit these advantages of widowhood and her single status in ways future generations of widows could not. In certain early republican circles, there was a growing sense that women had as much right to a full education, held as much potential for contributing to the growth of the new nation, and were as intellectually capable as any man. (This may well have affected Lydia’s rationale for not remarrying.) “I feel quite alert at the thoughts of doing something that may set me on a little step above absolute dependence,” wrote the widow Margaret Hill Morris to her sister in 1780, presaging sentiments expressed in such published sources as varied as Benjamin Rush’s Thoughts upon Female Education (1787), Judith Sargent Murray’s On the Equality of the Sexes (1790), and Susanna Rowson’s poem, “Women as They Are” (1804). In contrast, throughout the 19th century, the role of women in society was increasingly domesticized by political and cultural ideology. Specific to the printing trade, by mid-century a common refrain in the literature was that women were not up to the strenuous and coarse task of working in printing houses and that, by employing women, owners were taking jobs away from men with families to support. As representative Charles F. Town expounded at a Buffalo convention of the National Typographical Union in 1854, feminine sensibilities would be compromised in the print shop through exposure to “many medical and other scientific works … which contain matter eminently unfitted and highly improper for the perusal of modest young women.” The industrialization of the printing trades, as seen in the growth of unions and the rise of such large plants as Harper’s and Wiley and Putnam’s, also had a detrimental effect on women’s abilities to hold positions of authority (though the 19th century would see an increase in the numbers of women in lower paying jobs, such as that of compositor, in which they were regularly paid less per hour than their male counterparts). Another example of this decline in the mercantile status of women can be seen in the rapid growth in the early 19th century of such professional fields as law and medicine and the accounting industry, the latter represented in the forms of how-to books and specialized education – all specifically geared towards men; while women were not exempt from such education per se, the marketing of it as a pedagogy was directed at the masculine population. As Frederick Beck said in his Young Accountant’s Guide (Boston, 1831) “no gentleman’s (my emphasis) education is complete without it.” This is in stark contrast with the integral role played by women in earlier commercial activities.

As alluded to earlier, also in Lydia Bailey’s favor was the precedent of women playing active roles in the printing trades. This participation extended back almost to the first use of movable type in Europe. At the Convent of San Jacopo di Ripoli near Florence, where there was an active commercial press from 1476 to 1484, nuns were acting as compositors. The first woman’s name to be attached to a colophon as a printer was that of Anna Rüger of Augsburg; she inherited her husband’s press when he died in 1483. Other early Continental women printers, who were active both in the business directly and in the building of printing dynasties, included Maria Torresani, the wife of Aldus Manutius; Guyone de Viart, wife of Johannes Higman, Henri Estienne, and Simone de Colines; Perette Badius, daughter of Josse Bade and wife of Robert Estienne; and Gertrude Lachner, wife of Johann Froben. Maureen Bell, in her essay “Women in the English Book Trades 1557-1700,” identifies almost 400 women involved in the English book trades during the 17th century alone. Represented in their numbers were professions as varied as business proprietors, publishers, compositors, illustrators, and hawkers and mercuries. Turning to the other side of the Atlantic, in 1594 the Mexican María de Sansoric began the tradition of women printers in North America when she inherited her deceased husband’s business. The first press operated in the North American colonies was maintained by a woman – Elizabeth (Harris) Glover inherited its proprietorship when her husband died on the journey from England to America, running it from its inception in 1639 until her marriage to Henry Dunster two years later. Benjamin Franklin’s and Isaiah Thomas’ accounts are full of the colonial women who either supported their husbands in the printing business or ran those businesses in their absences, often in an “official” capacity to government operations. Franklin himself actively promoted a number of female relatives and acquaintances in the printing trades, among them his sister-in-law, Ann Franklin; the aforementioned Elizabeth Timothée; her daughter-in-law, Ann; and his grand-daughter, Sally Mecom. Lydia Bailey would never have succeeded in her operations if not for such historical precedents. That said, her achievements were due to a much wider set of circumstances, both social and personal, some of which indeed had been in place for generations, but some of more recent vintage.

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